Most people assume that lying to federal agents is a crime. However, many are shocked to learn how easy it is for the government to convict people of this felony. Federal authorities often resort to charging this crime because it is deceptively easy to prove when they believe a more serious crime has taken place, but lack the evidence to prove that more serious offense. It becomes a trap for citizens who believe they have nothing to hide and speak to federal authorities without a lawyer. The best way to avoid a conviction and protect your liberty is to hire a lawyer immediately when you have reason to believe authorities want to talk to you.
Generally, people achieve success in life by working hard and convincing others to follow their lead. When federal agents encounter successful people, successful people tend to believe that if they just tell the truth the investigation into their role will be over. Federal authorities do not act like TV cops. They are kind and polite, and lull the interviewee into a false sense of security using techniques they have been taught for years. The law does not require authorities to advise you of your rights during these types of meetings. Reflecting on these interviews, clients often believed it was a positive conversation and were not concerned that the conversation was not recorded. At least two agents were present during the conversation, which is never by happenstance. One agent directs the interview while the other takes notes on what is being said. The interviewee generally believes he or she is educating federal authorities, and do not realize the authorities have already formed a conclusion about what happened. If your answers do not fit their preconceived narrative, agents believe you lied to them.
While you are presumed innocent, after being charged two federal agents can tell the jury that you lied based on the results of their investigation. Because the interview was not recorded, the jury considers what sworn law enforcement officers, who juries still tend to believe without question, say what they believed they heard you say during the interview. This can happen years after the interview took place. The jury does not review the notes taken during the interview or the report, which is often written days later.
The national news consistently reports on cases about lying to the FBI. Often the person is portrayed in such a way that our clients never see themselves as possibly being in that situation. In our practice, the CEO of an international company was charged after a conversation with law enforcement officers at a local coffee shop. Our client knew he was meeting with law enforcement officers, but decided, without consulting us, that he did not need us because he had nothing to hide. Ultimately, we were able to convince the prosecutors to drop the charges. His liberty may not have ever been in jeopardy if he declined to speak to law enforcement officers and let us handle it. The consequences of a conviction could have resulted in a prison sentence and destroyed his professional and personal life. This scenario is so common that it is impossible to recount the various times we see this series of events.
Simply put, you cannot be convicted of lying to federal authorities if you do not speak to federal authorities. Whether you speak to authorities does not determine whether the investigation is over. It is imperative to retain experienced counsel to navigate the perils you face. The United States Supreme Court noted the 5th Amendment Right to Remain Silent protects both the guilty and innocent. If you believe you are under federal investigation, or if you are an attorney with a client under federal investigation, call us immediately at (407) 901-5852.